Benjamin van Loon of talks Middle Ground with Chicago Literati

Benjamin van Loon of talks Middle Ground with Chicago Literati

If Gertrude Stein, Issac Asimov and David Lynch created a literary website it would be Founded in January 2011 by Benjamin van Loon and “Mary J. Levine”, Anobium operates as a paradise for writers looking to break the orthodox fetters that dominate literature.

 Suffice it to say, has become one of my new favorite places to visit on the web. The content of various talented writers is set to the tune of a sleek, aesthetic design that is easy to navigate. What’s best about is the feeling that anyone can visit it and not feel marginalized: there’s truly something for everyone.

 In keeping with his desire to collaborate with the masses, Anobium co-founder Benjamin van Loon is hard at work on his new project: Middle Ground. It was an honor for me to talk with him about this exciting new project, and I’m sure it will intrigue you as well.

 Can you tell our readers about Middle Ground?

 The elevator pitch is simple: Middle Ground is an experimental, collaborative writing project that culminates in a published book. But the experiment—that’s where the fun is. To inform the mechanics of the experiment, we’re using the success of the Rescription Project—the experimental, collaborative writing project we conducted in 2012—as a key reference point for how the process goes. (You can pick up the book here, if you’re curious. And I hope you are:

And the process goes like this: we choose such-and-such amount of geographies (correlative to the number of people participating in the experiment), each linked by the common theme of ‘middle,’ like, Middle Inlet, Wisconsin; The Middle East (bar) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and so forth. And the project proceeds by the writers subsequently ‘visiting’ these different geographies through their writing. Writer 1 will write up to 500 words about Location X. Writer 2 will then visit Location X and add up to 500 more words to that text. Writer 3 will do the same, and so forth. The catch: whatever has been written about this-or-that place can’t be deleted or erased. It can be rearranged, it can be footnoted, it can be struck through, but it can’t go away.

We’re looking to get 15 or 20 participants in the project, and it won’t be possible for everyone to ‘visit’ everywhere, so each writer will end up only visiting four or five locations. But at the end, we expect to have these very strange, semi-lucid or totally off-the-wall pictures of these places, all bound by the concept of ‘middle.’ This is exactly the kind of thing Anobium gets all schvitzy for.

The other catch is that each piece is going to be anonymous. So there’s kind of an ethos of vandalism we’re encouraging here, like in bathroom graffiti, how we all add our own parenthetical remarks to build on that ongoing scatological narrative. When the book is eventually published, authorship for the entire book will be attributed to all group participants, though no one participant will be able to claim any one particular story. This is a similar approach we took to Rescription, and we’ve found that anonymity really encourages some unique creative freedom—and presents a unique intellectual challenge. I don’t want to say Oulipo, but I just said it—so fuck it.


How did the idea for Middle Ground come to you?

 Like I said, some of the conceptual information for the project was informed by our past experience with the Rescription Project. At Anobium, we knew we wanted to do another collaborative writing experiment, but didn’t want to repeat the exact same experiment. Say no to one-trick ponies. So I teamed up with Pat Chesnut—Rescription Project participant, editor of the Bad Version (, co-leader for the Middle Ground, and all-around good guy—and we brainstormed Middle Ground over a few intense sessions, fueled by cheap beer. That’s where the best ideas come from.


What are you hoping to accomplish with Middle Ground?

 Most immediately, when you participate in any kind of active writing group or writing collective, you’re (hopefully) going to have your writing skills and ideas challenged. So there’s a benefit in that sense. Plus, knowing that the work is going to actually be printed and published serves to fuel the energy for the whole thing, which will take about six-or-so-months to complete. But beyond that, there’s an absolutely essential community element. You’re able to build relationships with other writers and like-thinkers when you’re working together on a common project. And, assuming we’re all participating because we’ve been possessed by the daemon of creativity, in any capacity, there’s also a sense of camaraderie that’s tap-intoable when you’re working with others suffering the same affliction.

Being a writer is a tough gig. It gets lonely and there’s a lot of rejection unless you’re Dan Brown. And not everyone can afford to not work and join up with a pat-eachother-on-the-back MFA writing program (which, in many ways, creates an ersatz feeling of commiseration), and the current writing sphere is overpopulated with folks brandishing these acronyms. The working-class writer, or the person who writes for the hell of it, can feel left out of the ‘cool kids club’ that dominates the current writing scene. What the Middle Ground is about, and what Anobium is about, is being accessible, and looking at the creative process as the ultimate reward and purpose of writing. Sharing this passion with others is part of the reward and that a book comes at the end of it is an added bonus; the fruits of shared labor.

So, in short, with Middle Ground, I hope to write, have fun doing it, make new connections, and get a book at the end. As a writer, you can’t ask for much else beyond that (except maybe some Dan Brown-tier cash flow).


What is the best part about your work with Anobium?

 Getting that Dan Brown-tier cash flow. (Not really.)


What do you love best about writing?

 The ridiculousness of it.


What do you love best about the literary community?

 The value it places on self-loathing.


If you could go back in time to have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

 Rod Serling. I don’t even smoke cigarettes, but if I were hanging out with him, I totally would. I imagine that he would order a steak, and I would make a stupid ‘to serve man’ joke. But seriously, Serling is the man. He gets it. He knows the secret.


Benjamin van Loon co-founded Anobium ( with “Mary J. Levine” in 2011. He is a writer, editor, and essayist, and lives in Chicago with his wife, a singer.

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